Can It Be (scribble #2)
There's a fair measure of flowery oratory in the Spanish poets, too. It's an occupational disease. But Brodsky's delivery, as I experienced it, was far more stark & stoic. If you listen to some of the Library of Congress recordings, on the other hand, there's a pathos & quavering intimate weak quality to his voice. (I'm a sucker for the sound of RRRussian, I admit. & Italian. Good essay by Brodsky on Montale. He's buried in Venice, near Pound.)

Yet again, one of the things that possibly makes Brodsky difficult to appreciate is that his poetry is also a kind of anti-poetry. He was an admirer of Auden, Cavafy, Beckett - all poets (in VERY different ways) of the flat ironic unpoetic mundane surreal-comic antipoetic manner. Remember, he was one of the grandchildren of the Giants (Akhmatova, Pasternak, Tsvetaeva, Mandelstam). & a near-contemporary of the grandstand Bombasts of the Soviet Cosmos (Yevtushenko, Vozneshenskii...). His prosy antipoetic strictly-metered unmetrical depressing exile as anti-hero mannerisms are a kind of curtain or veil or shield, protecting (as learned in Gulag) his creative process.
More Jonathan on Brodsky. A curious closed-off attitude. With translation you have to make allowances. If, in spite of that, you find nothing in the poetry, so be it. There are also the essays, the readings. (I can attest Brodsky was a remarkable reader of his work, in English & Russian. I've never witnessed a more intense & powerful reading than the one he gave in Providence.)

I know I have similar attitudes toward various poets. They just don't do anything for me. Why Jonathan feels called upon, periodically, to dump on Brodsky, I have no idea. There's a residual jealousy of Fame there, in the "community".

Stone Villages

The stone-built villages of England.
A cathedral bottled in a pub window.
Cows dispersed across fields.
Monuments to kings.

A man in a moth-eaten suit
sees a train off, heading, like everything here, for the sea,
smiles at his daughter, leaving for the East.
A whistle blows.

And the endless sky over the tiles
grows bluer as swelling birdsong fills.
And the clearer the song is heard,
the smaller the bird.

1975-6, translated by the author.

Brodsky with some Russian friends (including Petersburg poet Olga Sedakova, 3rd from left) in Venice.
Once a year or so, on a seasonal basis I suppose, Jonathan decides that Joseph Brodsky was an overrated poet. Jonathan doesn't know much Russian, as far as I know, nor much about Russian literary culture of the 60s-70s-80s-90s. But he feels qualified. In Russia, Brodsky is considered a major poet, an immoveable presence & influence.

There was always sort of a vague Brodsky-resentment in the American poetry puddle. I remember a long rambling put-down by Sam Hamill in APR, to which I responded with a letter. That must have been in the early 80s.

Nobody has ever claimed Brodsky's poetry in English (translated or otherwise) was great shakes. But he was not an American poet. He was something cosmopolitan & not easily cataloged, & disturbing to some in the little proffy-professional ego-puddle we call American poetry.

[By the way, I have been reading M. Blanchot lately, thanks to Jonathan. Blanchot had some very insightful things to say about poetry/prose, language/meaning, Mallarme, Proust, Simone Weil, lots of other French authors, Broch, etc. He's emits that special Paris odeur de "I am so profound & serious" - but, unlike some of the other theorists & critics, he keeps it beautifully concise.]

On poetic language/meaning (in the essay translated as "The Mystery of Literature") - or the old form/content chestnut - he seems to be saying that, in poetry, these two make an irreducible pair. In ordinary speech, the words disappear into the meaning; in poetry, there is this oscillation - each one of the pair trying to be all-in-all, yet each needing the other. Somewhere in that irreducible tango lies the special form of truth which poetry offers.

Reminds me of the question John Irwin asked himself in the book about Poe & Borges (Mystery to a Solution) - how do you write a mystery story that the reader will want to read a second or third time (even though the crime is "solved" at the end of the 1st reading)?

Poetic form (the words) traps meaning in a circle or a ring, which thus becomes a kind of fountain, ever-renewing, everlasting. I tried to express this in an old poem, the opening poem in Way Stations:


Here the waters gather along the shore.
They meet the land breathing in foam,
and roll the sleepy pebbles and shells
back into long sand waves as before.

Our moon, casting her antique spells.
A motionless iris in the whale’s eye
of the sea, her unspeakable name
sinks to the bottom of lonely wells.

Her low whispers frame the deserted dome.
Her light covers the circus floor.
And she lifts, with one nocturnal sigh,
the heaving swells in a silver comb.

("Ocean State" is the motto of Rhode Island. Reminder : I was born on RI Statehood Day - 5.29.52 - a kind of circular number.)


I will probably be posting less here for a while, folks.

Trying to try harder to come to grips with writing problems. Sometimes the blog - the way I write the blog - induces something like a veneer of certainties, when in fact it's made up of half-thoughts, partial ideas.



In the almond — what stands in the almond?
The Nothing.
In the almond stands Nothing.
There it stands and stands.

In the Nothing — who stands there? The King.
There stands the King, the King.
There he stands and stands.

Jewish curls, no gray for you.

And your eye — whereto stands your eye?
Your eye stands opposite the almond.
Your eye, the Nothing it stands opposite.
It stands by the King.
So it stands and stands.

Human curls, no gray for you.
Empty almond, kingly blue.

[Translation © 2001 by John Felstiner]
A good essay (Celan's Mandelstam)

[p.s. HG Poetics photo was taken on bridge over the Seine, early '90s]
[marginal note by Celan to his poem "In Eins":]

M a n d e l s t a m m -
Und so wird man verstehen, daß die Gedichte M's nicht, wie man verschiedentlich von ihnen sagte, "hermetisch" sind, sondern vielmehr offen, weit aufgetan dem Auge, das sie in ihrer ganzen Zeittiefe zu begreifen versucht.
Schluß: DES MENSCHEN ORT - EIN ORT IM ALL (Gellhaus 1997, 340)

[M a n d e l s t a m -
And thus one will understand, that M's poems are not, as it has been occasionally stated, "hermetic", but rather open, disclosed to the eye, which tries to grasp them in their entire depth of time.
I've been repeating these ideas in different ways for years. Sorry about that.

There should be a literary-critical context which challenges and modifies the assumptions of the "post-avant". I'm trying to provide some building blocks for that effort.

The basis is not technical in the sense of surface elements of versification or style. It has to do with the concept of a poem, what poetry is, in relation to the non-verbal phenomena which it represents.

The basis is not political in the sense that "poets" are part of a class of intellectuals in solidarity & struggle with the oppressed & with each other. Or in the sense that "poets" are bearers of ancient aristocratic traditions carried on by an aesthetic elite in democracy. Poetry is not the offspring of ideology.

The basis is aesthetic, in the sense that the poem is the end of poetry. But the aesthetic is one that recognizes that what is happening is not just a refining-away of all that is not poetry. Poetry is a refining-together, an integration. Of evocation, understanding, empathy - the "word" with the "flesh". The poem is the fruit of a dual bond, a conjunction.
What was that battle about, back in St. Petersburg, in Viacheslav Ivanov's "tower", at the turn of the LAST century, between Russian "Symbolists" & "Acmeists"?

& why should this matter to you, bloggiste?

Symbolism was a cultural paradigm, part of the atmosphere, fin-de-siecle. Mallarme one of its chief avatars.

Mallarme took the alienation, the de-centeredness, the Void (drawn in subterranean fashion from Poe) - in itself an inalienable element of human experience (in traditional Christian terms, "fallenness") - and applies it, translates it, into a theory of language. And a script for the social role of Poet.

In this operation, he was percursor of much philosophy, much theory, for the century to follow. Thus the exaltation of Poetry among the philosophers, from Heidegger to Derrida. (Maybe the existentialists, drawing from Kierkegaard, were more realistic about the (in)adequacy of poetry & language as antidote for experiential alienation.)

In Symbolism, the magic of language replaced traditional religion as the skeleton key to the heavenly, otherworldly saferoom.

Acmeism was a struggle against this literary pseudo-religion. Elena Corrigan, in Mandelshtam's Poetics, relates how difficult & longlasting this struggle was for M. in particular. His early poetry was Symbolist in tenor, & suffused with an awareness of the "non-being" of poetic speech, the inherent "displacement" of experience.

The "school", the "theory" of Acmeism was a formulation of literary principles on the level of the essay & the manifesto. One of its basic attitudes was an enmity toward symbolist "stars" & otherworlds. Poetry somehow had to participate in & celebrate the goodness to be found in this world; it was to participate, through "craft", in civilization-building and the continuity of culture.

Such an attitude (stemming from pre-WW I, pre-Revolution Russia) sounds naive in comparison with the subtle obliterations of 20th-cent. post-structuralism & deconstruction, the Mallarmean myths of the empty, de-signified word.

Corrigan describes how Mandelstam's own working theory changed & developed through the 20s & 30s. The notion of literary culture-building molted into a concept of fellowship, "kinship", between reader/writer. Symbolist otherness in poetic speech was absorbed into a larger pattern of "reading" - which begins in catastrophic break or alienation (the text from reality), but metamorphoses into a kind of journey, of kinship & recognition.

It seems to me that underlying these theoretical positions (symbolism, acmeism, affirmation, alienation) are more basic stances or attitudes - psychic responses to positive & negative experience.

Literature can acknowledge, name & identify the terrors of life : it can even (as in the case of Mallarme & symbolism & many of the theoretical discourses that followed) produce a philosophical armature or logic which identifies with, sometimes glorifies in, existential absence, dislocation, meaninglessness.

The anguish of existence is a human predicament, an aspect of experience.

Poe & Whitman might be seen as avatars of these opposing stances : anguish or celebration; denial or affirmation.

But it would be a mistake to channel poetry into a theory of language which sponsors only one or the other stance.

Identity, non-identity. Being, otherness...

Language doesn't merely displace or obliterate or create a phantasm of the thing it represents. The relation is dialectic between word & thing; speech can move toward both denial & affirmation, blindness & recognition. So the theory of poetry based on a language of displacement & non-identity is a partial one, which limits poetry to only one half of the phenomenon.

Every affirmation in words represents a kind of promissory note, a letter of credit - standing for the fact, deed, thing which it affirms. Thus a poetry situated in the language of affirmation is constitutionally modest & humble - it acknowledges its own partiality. It does not replace the flower but depends upon it, stems from it. (Mallarme's recognition of the displacement effect of language also humbles poetry, in another way. It destroys rhetorical bombast. But only so long as it refrains from becoming a technique, a modus operandi, in its own right : a complacent acceptance, a glorification, of alienation.)

Mandelshtam's Acmeism developed not only in conflict with the abstractions of Symbolism, but in conflict with the violence & fraud of the State, and with the constitutional fatalism of Russia. Thus in this context the literary "Word" was pure affirmation - "the Word is bread - it shares the fate of people : suffering" (or something like that). How different from the Mallarmean notion of the Word as purified of worldly corruption! Actually, they share an idealism of poetic speech - but for Mandelshtam this is rooted in "the people" as language-nation, the people as a whole - rather than solely in the poet as scapegoat, (self)sacrifice.

I think you can see in Celan's fascination with Mandelstam a means by which he tried to integrate poetic speech (at the most knowing & sophisticated depth of literary self-alienation) with a kind of silent or unspoken "sense" - of solidarity with the living & the suffering. & to make this fusion a "definition" of poetry.


Reading Maurice Blanchot on Mallarme, courtesy of Jonathan.

Distinction he makes between Valery & Mallarme. For the former, poetry is a vehicle of meditation, intellectual mastery; for the latter, purely an aesthetic object formed from words (words from which everything has been refined away, except for this aesthetic essence).

An aesthetic based in turn on the one characteristic of language which fascinates Mallarme : the way in which words replace, disperse - distance themselves, abstract themselves - from the real things they sometimes represent. In so doing, words present themselves in aesthetic form - as poems.

Maybe my shadow-boxing with Language Poetry over the years has been, in part, a battle with my own fascination with, my own bent toward, some such seductive doctrine. Solipsism, solitude, silence, music.

How different the doctine of the Chicago critics (not great poets themselves, admittedly - but going back to Coleridge, for one, anyway...). Here the aesthetic imprint of a poem is not so simply yoked to the words, the language medium, per se.

Just as Mandelstam juxtaposed the Ukrainian philologist Potebnia (with his notion of the "inner psychic image" of the word) to the Russian formalists (with their poetics based on a linguistics which analyzed the word into separate functions) - the Chicago School opposed the strictly linguistic poetics of the New Critics, with a kind of metalinguistic concept of the poem. That is, the poem can't be reduced to its linguistic medium : rather, the medium conveys an imaginative whole, a complex image (a single lyric, or an entire play, or an epic).

Still, Mallarme (and lurking behind him, Poe & Baudelaire) accomplished something permanent (he discovered a sort of antimatter) : everything after has to take it into account. How that gets done, in theory & practice, is the big question. Celan maybe took it to the limit. Every word refers to some train of thought & feeling - conceptual, experiential, personal. Yet the words are so encrypted in their own musical silence as to both invite & defy "meaning", interpretation. The defiance itself is rendered as (tragic) beauty.

So Celan sort of has it both ways. His defiance of meaning is not a literary game or an ideological program. It stems from a felt awareness of death, wrong, grief, hope, love - which are, in a sense, extra-poetic "referents". Or they are elements from the realm of fact & "journalism" which are both acknowledged & somehow won for poetry, absorbed.

I'm sure all this sounds awfully obvious to those who've spent more time with these poets & these issues.


But don't lump me with the legionnaires of politic piety, or the latest hobgoblins of superstition & forced conformism. I'm in Providence. I'm with Roger Williams.
The other thing about poets, though, is that they understand (through vocational experience) that you can't just rationalize & "explain" everything (nature, human nature). The subconscious & intuition remain unaccountable : analogous, I suppose, to "leaps" of faith & acts of selfless participation (ie., love). One of the Bible's shorter sentences : "God is Love." (Epistle of John)
Of course, all our finer thoughts (about Nature & Spirit & so on) will be sifted by a judgement, which measures the "love of God" by the ratio of "love of neighbor".

"On these 2 commandments hang all the Law & the Prophets." The basis of civilization : for which we are each responsible, down to our smallest actions & inactions.

(On that score, we'd better hope for mercy upon our soul, & show mercy in turn.)
I line up with all the antique poets of olde, who assert a (spiritually) vital, rather than a mechanistic, cosmos. This is where I was tending, qua poet, before and after the crisis previously related. Of course intelligibility & design don't rule out mechanism, chance or law : the advantage is, that they don't rule out life, uniqueness, anomaly, purpose, or beauty, either.
Typology is simply analogy & metaphor, projected by the logic of religious belief. A poetic means of representing nature & the "supernatural".

Wrought up into ignorant lines of battle with science, or for purposes of inter-religious strife, by polemical charlatans, or misguided literalists (clumsy readers).
Going back to comments here of 3.18:

I wonder how the Biblical concept fire - as in, "you shall all be salted with fire"; "I baptize you with water; but one is coming who shall baptize you with spirit & with fire" - compares with the Romantic notion (Coleridge, Blake, maybe Yeats) of vision.

Roger Williams' parochial battles, late in life, with the Quakers & the followers of Anne Hutchinson. He advocated a kind of scriptural realism (Christ's work was a particular historical activity & event) vs. the dangers of spiritual solipsism (pride, vanity), which he believed were lurking in the Quaker's radical antinomian "inner light".

The imagination inhabits a borderland between subjective & objective.

In what way is faith dependent on imagination? A believer would say that faith proceeds from, is a gift from, the Holy Spirit. But there is a sort of co-operation between the mind/imagination and that "inspiration". The imagination as the vital activity of the mind - the "integration" of human capabilities ("personality").

Readings in Maximus (the other Maximus, the Byzantine theologian) - about the "divinisation" of mankind by means of the Spirit.

Maybe the outcome of the co-operation of Spirit & imagination is - fire.

& what is fire? Light, for one thing. The instantaneous recognition of something which represents both the limit and measure of ordinary time/space. That light of which (in the old-fashioned typological sense) physical light is the image.
On the other hand (following down-at-the-mouth comments of ye'day), the digital-fidget reality of oure age is indeed a new form of publication. So with these blogs one develops a new form of semi-public literary persona.

The blog impact was more vivid a few years ago, when they first surfaced - in the sub-poetry world, as sort of an alternative to discussion lists. You noticed a creative variety among blogging habits & habitats.

The idea that one can dip around in a blog's archive, since they're searchable (at least to some extent).

But this diary approach is obviously more diffuse than that of the essay. There's more rigor involved in proposing arguments or offering research & evidence in essays or articles.

I can blog in off-stretches at work. But I can't write poetry or compose an essay or a story. To do that requires some solitude & concentration.


Feeling a change in the weather. Must find a way to reduce my own cacaphony, amid the general cacaphony. This is probably a symptom of homesickness for poetry.

(Why am I telling you this. Blogging is weirdly un-private. Or, I am just weirdly blogging.)

I've never learned how to discipline myself, or to negotiate the worlds of writing & publication. & blogging makes an easy substitute for that. Like email for correspondence.

Maybe the poet labors only to reflect back, in a mirror, the pleasure received from reading/hearing other poetry. A closed circle, an artifice, a garden. What you read is a rough translation of what I heard before. (& you try to refine out the noise, in the process of finding the right words.)

But that leaves no room for making something really new, never done before.

Maybe it's both. You make something new in order to close the ring, draw the circle again.

The creative unity which Coleridge looked for in the poetic process. An integration of what you intuit to be the best words, in the best order - with as much of reality as you can manage. This also is to forge the ring, close the circle (on another plane).

But with so much talk & noise & distraction everywhere now - it seems to call for even more discipline & restraint, if you want to sharpen your message & refine your poetry. (of course I include myself among the noisemakers!)
I spent the weekend dismantling a rotten toolshed. No time to record more Top 40 schmaltz for you. Plus I'm running out of guitar chords. May have to practice for a while, heav'n forfend.


If I Could Say (Nostalgia for Mars)

Pop Music from Mars

If I could say
if I could put into words
all the sweetness
that you brought
into my life

Be like a summertime
long ago
in the park
on the 4th of July
by the riverside

my first published poem (1971):


you can do anything you want.

the baby here is trying to decide

about growing up human. he's rubbing

his double chin, he's a serious kid.

in a house on Arthur Street

a cap pistol is sitting on a desk

in the bedroom upstairs with the yellow

walls. according to the kid here

it's supposedly waiting

for the little green men.

the sky gets closer

as it gets more blue,

and you can recall

the 4th of July

all the heat

and all those little flags


Apropos the post earlier today, this poem, written about a year ago:

Nicholas of Cusa, Sailing Home

Never suppose an inventing mind as source
Of this idea nor for that mind compose
A voluminous master folded in his fire.

He was on board ship, sailing from Byzantium
when the moment of illumination came, a flash
of light that staggered him (as happened to Paul
on the Damascus road): when he understood
there can be no ratio, no means of comparison,
no middle term, between the finite and the infinite
Thus, since God is infinite, we have no means
of knowing Him (invisible, incommensurate); so,
as Paul says, If any man thinks he knows anything,
he has not yet known as he ought to know
It follows then, for Nicholas (De Docta Ignorantia)
our proper study is, to understand our ignorance.

I think of him in Constantinople, looking up
into that limpid sphere, that massive cupola,
Hagia Sophia: gazing back at those gigantic eyes:
Christos Pantokrator, hovering there, magnificent
in lapis lazuli, translucent marble. He would
have known that, even then, all-conquering armies
of the Pasha were encroaching on the city gates;
had swept away, already, the last flimsy shreds
of once-almighty Christian Rome – history itself
grown incompatible with that triumphant
image glaring down.

I cannot know You
as You are
. But when I think of you
I think of Bruegel panoramas: there’s Mankind
(a little, furry, muddy, peasant thing – yet
at home upon the earth – its caretaker – self-
conscious, quick – inventive builder, gardener –
blind governor – your tarnished mirror);
and, as he painted in The Road to Calvary,
you hide amongst us, suffering servant, near
the center of our troubles: buried in the crowd:
one of the roughs (disguised, in camouflage,
To whom it may concern : the Peter Tiscione poem ("For the Ones Who Dig") is in the archive for the date 2.1.05.
Roger Williams:

"the essence or being of the immortal, invisible, infinite, eternal, omnipotent and omniscient, and wise, we know no more than a fly knows what a king is."
I'm obsessed - in my own illogical & unsystematic way - with a particular subject : the way(s) in which a person moves from scepticism or agnosticism to belief. This has been one of those fixed points or idees fixes around which my ruminations have oscillated, since the time of this adventure (& before).

A person moving from doubt to belief is like someone moving from thought to action - because a whole way of interpreting reality, along with a potential avalanche of active commitments, stem from that initial step. How this comes about - in what circumstances - can entail, obviously, some very dramatic (life-affirming, or life-threatening) consequences.

The language of belief, without that primary opening or accession, leaves the listener unmoved, untouched, unconvinced (or oppressed by a confidence he or she doesn't share).

I'm interested in the ruminations of Coleridge & Stevens (or Nicolaus Cusanus) on the impact of imaginative (theological) concepts. In their sense of a relation between vision, on the one hand, and human freedom & dignity (autonomy), on the other.

The imagination can become an end in itself; but that's not the same thing as faith. The ruminations about the mystery of belief are only a subset of the ruminations on the mystery of God per se.

"God" is a concept which tends to bring the mind up short - blocked, confused, stymied, befuddled. At least this has been my experience. One has to live with it for a few decades to become slightly more confident in some slight measure of understanding (or the illusion of same).

I've found the notion of analogy or proportion to be very helpful in this pursuit of the illusion of knowledge (cf. Cusanus, On Learned Ignorance). I mean the golden proportion, or "dynamic symmetry" (the fibonacci sequence being one example). To wit: in a shape divided into two parts, the relation of the smaller to the larger part is the same as the relation of the larger part to the whole shape. (As a result, we have a spiral of infinite (proportionate) expansion, or contraction.)

What does this have to do with God? It's connected with the ancient notion of humankind as Imago Dei. The figure that humanity makes on earth - self-conscious, creative, constructive, hopefully merciful & wise - this "abstract image" of Man in general - is "analogous" to the figure of God. As Man is in relation to time and the earth, so God is in relation to eternity and the cosmos.

(The analogical image - going back to the Greeks, the Hebrews, & Byzantium all together - underlies much of the musing of Stevens, Coleridge... Mandelstam too. Cusanus played it brilliantly from at least 2 directions - ie. "Between the finite & the infinite there is no proportion..." etc.)

This basic architectonic of theism might possibly open the door to more profound mysteries ("salvation history"). & yet it takes more than a beautiful mathematical proportion to convince a sceptic to believe in the existence of a benevolent Creator. & this question - this uncertainty - this riddle - is precisely where the path of the individual seeker, ruminator, cogitator, meditator, reasoner, intuitor, experiencer - the selva oscura of each personal mind & heart - sets out.

Mandelstam, from his first book (Kamen = "Stone" - trans. by Merwin/Brown):

Let the names of imperial cities
caress the ears with brief meaning.
It's not Rome the city that lives on,
it's man's place in the universe.

Emperors try to rule that,
priests find excuses for wars,
but the day that place falls empty
houses and altars are trash.


Lost My Way (busking again on the worldwide web)
Something odd & green & quietudinous for St. P Day (from July):


Lifted in crossweft timewarp
from a flowing delta’s fan
of phenomena the nef
left behind the perimeter

(centripedalling kenosic canoah
hen-brewed where bees dance
above closed lips) ascends
into Enrico’s rich F-rica

a sharp clft promontory near
victorious falls the iron
bells’ aye ripples rings
there and the rain

glints on lfbld
splld like rndrp
on lfbld of prrie
grs enflded

lf within lf
shrp swrd

now with
bhved kbzzzz
of hzzzzryl bskts
of hneed wshprrd

hmmng and ksszzs
where the alfabt iz effybt
O’hnd mmmmm (bllft
for the klsn of the csqd shp)

and the shp baaaa
and the b shbaaa
nd the shp (a bshfl
shmrk offrd Abrm)

flts like a spr slwly
into the crcle of
the jwlled crcle
where a flt whstls

to the pt the fxtpt
of the lv-lw
rvld unrvld
crsrd prfct

now nt Mmmn bt
a pnny fr hr nme?

The shrp shprd’s prvn
prw of the shp anchrd
now a rs rsn for shrn
the Chrn crst frvrlstn

and trn the jls shl
of Jls to flcy ltshp

lightly armor to feathers goes
from Julius to lucky July
in the twirl of elegiac
shamrock Sophie

overshadowing the ark
overshadowing the crown
overshadowing the crowd
and lifted so carefully

into the bkwrd mrk
with a shshshmm
goes the shmrk
like tny crmb


a figurehead curled
sharp prow back

grs of
flft ngr

now upstream
qrnd Qn or pn
pt of spd a Qn
of mstrd time

mstrld now
in a ryl flsh
of blJ kfshr
Jbl ay won



Two Martian Riders (sort of between Dylan in Duluth & Hendrix in New Orleans. Upn'down the Mississip. Let the bon temps roulez.)
Still reading Perry Miller's Roger Williams. In tandem with this week's New Yorker article, about religious right's pressure on separation of church & state.

Roger would have had a lot to say about that. The aggressive proselytizing, which makes Christianity a cultural binding agent rather than a spiritual shriving & quest. A certain worldliness attaches itself to the million-dollar legal & ad-propaganda campaigns. (Then again, who in this world doesn't exude a certain worldliness? Not many.)

The absurd, tragicomic melodrama of relations between religious practices and the practices of society at large... Williams loved to use the "garden & wilderness" metaphor (the church is the garden, the wilderness is the world). This is a useful distinction, which goes back (you might say) even before Christ, to the rite of baptism - which is the sign of repentance, of turning from the ways of the world to the love of God, of recognizing oneself as a child of God before anything else.

There is always this temptation to impose one's landscape (the garden) on the world; to erase that difficult distinction; to create a kind of Christian-imperial fantasy-culture. Williams, on the other hand, loves to point out that the sign of the true Christian is the lamb : the persecuted, not the persecutor.

The power of rhetoric over free inquiry. The willingness to judge & condemn the opponent, the "enemy", in simplistic terms, ruthless castigations (practiced everywhere now, on every side, on every issue).

The first Roger Williams I knew about was the '60s pop musician. I played his fancy version of "Autumn Leaves" as a piano recital. (This was the sheet music:)
The songs over at the music blog should be available for mp3 players pretty soon. Right now I think you can play them on your computer, but can't access the mp3 file itself.

I'm having fun singing & playing into my computer. It's something to do after sitting in front of the computer all day. The sound quality is terrible, but that's part of the wonder of it all. Just be careful with headphones!


2 Martians, Jamming About Separation of Civil & Spiritual Affairs on Mars
Jonathan wants Poetry to do a Henry Gould issue. It would probably help if I sent them some poems.


I'm prouder of my rendition of "On Top of Old Smoky", over at GLS, than anything else (it's my own piano arrangement!). Please, get yourself some headphones or an mp3 player, for the full treatment. The other piano pieces are pretty good too ("Far-off Bird on the Evening Prairie"; "I Am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger"; "Can It Be"... see Feb. archive).

Went to RI Philharmonic tonight. Ravel's Piano Concerto in G. Nice! Slow middle section starts with the same arpeggio (a 10th? C-G-E).

Ravel is a nice french genius. (They did Bolero too.)
If you go over to Go Lil Sparrow, you can listen to a poem about Hart Crane (read by Clint Eastwood, in Guelic), and the sound of rain.


From the library window I can see the riverbank where Williams planted Providence.

(Sloop Providence, sailing upstream)
 III  (Sham Death of a Minor Shakespearean)

"I die for the glory of the light and
the majesty of Apollo!" – he cried
– drifting slowly, fastidiously,
to the floorboard bedside.

Head flat against the hard oak
neither he nor audience could tell
if it was by his own hand
or by another's, that he fell.

Only that the heavy thunder, the light ringing
washing through his skull was not applause,
but penetrating phantom fingers
of the black – sable – nurse of darkness.

This is from Blackstone's Day-Book, the last book of Forth of July (published in The Rose, and also in Island Road). It's about what I've been talking about today; it's also about the poet Edwin Honig (Honig, Tom Epstein & I had dinner one night with Elena Shvarts in Providence. I think it was around my birthday. I'll post a section of the poem I read for them, which I had written for ES the night before).


You remember the stooped man from Brooklyn,
Elena – limping (wounded) through cedars.
The man with elephantine features,
a crown of white hair, scarred... a nobleman,

the only knight we knew. Out of the black-ink
melting pot of Septimania (marches of Spain
tattooed with strange lettering – a written,
walking tome or tomb). We drink

the black milk of these scored hoofprints,
a bread of pain – we scourge the scriptures'
breathless Word – of heaving sighs
only (and faded into sand long since)

The icon floats through a crane bone
flute, and is only image or memento,
crumb of madeleine... a slow tempo
memorized long before music began –

in the foam of stars, seeded through night
like Abraham's offspring, or light manna
slipped from pigeons' wings – lemony
taste and flower-scent – white

snow in the depths of blue taiga.
Was with us for a while, a recapitulation
of a capitan, a Makhir from Narbonne,
or Barcelona – Kyot or Flegetanis – troubadour,

star-gazer, man of letters. Was profiled
in the ink-black night, still shining bright
beneath a long-gone W – his delicate
Sabean bride... (Cassiopeia – distant, mild).

You have to step with care & consideration among the tender woolly mammoths of traditional religion; you mustn't stub your toe on an elephant heel, or banana peel.

Keith Ward, previously mentioned Anglican [sorry, Roger] author, is pretty good on this, though I have a few reservations, which I won't go into here. See Religion and Revelation.

& there are mysteries, & there are more mysteries, under the almond tree.
There's a sweetness & humanity in Williams' A Key Into the Language of America. The idea is to get people to learn Narragansett so they'll actually go be with them. & in the process discover the wild Indians are at least as kindly & "civilized" as, or more so than, the saintly English. & what that says about church government. See Perry Miller on this.

Williams, Blake, Yeats, Mandelstam.... scholars of the wheel of fire.

"Ye shall all be salted with fire. Salt is good; therefore have salt amongst yourselves, & be at peace with one another."

What does this mean, scholars?

According to Williams, throughout human history there was & will be only one true, real, authoritative social covenant established by God with Man, and that was through Moses; and that covenant was dissolved by the crucifixion & resurrection. [This, it should be understood, is not current standard Christian doctrine, which holds that the covenant has never been abrogated - but rather taken into a new dimension, a new step in the process of divine unfolding.]

Thus all human government - especially theocracy, perhaps - is error-prone, a blind muddling-along, & sometimes utter pretense, fraudulent. This from one credited with establishing the first civil state based on precepts of free speech & complete liberty of conscience.

(Then William Blackstone, ensconced with his moldy manuscripts on Study Hill, looks into his alchemical flask & asks... but how, in fact, was that 1st covenant established? Who laid the cornerstone behind Shakespeare's Head? Where is Atlantis, Hart Crane? The rest is silence.)
Roger Williams, for example.

What you find in books... take nothing literally. Except the Resurrection.

Think about that for a little while. The woods grow dark and deep.
Because the world is weirder & in need of more weirdness. That's what the imagination is for. Right, Wally?
I envy the poet who is also something of a scholar. Who has another or a related intellectual pursuit. Who can leave off all this honking, & do that. Who brings some of the necessary precision, exactitude, refinement, into their poetry.

I have no prestige with the literary scholars. No one studies me at Harvard or Stanford. Nobody offers me a fellowship. (Then again, I don't apply for 'em, either.) I am a poor wayfarin' stranger, a-travelin through this world of woe.

There happened to be a lot on the radio last night ("Marketplace"; "Eric in the Evening" jazz station) about changes in the music industry, home recording, small music businesses run by the musicians, etc. Listened to it while driving down to West Warwick for band practice.

I will continue to fare forward in my unremunerative noncommercial muse-po fashion, apparently. Free downloads available.


Roger Williams, writing in an attempt to quell one of the frequent rancorous squabbles in his newfound state (he was referring to the bond of trust he had established with his Narragansett friends):

"It was not price nor money could have purchased Rhode Island. Rhode Island was purchased by love."


Reading Perry Miller's book, Roger Williams (publ. 1953). Seems a good place to start (all over again). Miller tries to get behind the image made useful for later generations & political developments (Williams the genial forerunner of religious tolerance).

Miller's Williams is an adamant, uncompromising spiritual perfectionist, one who followed out his premises to their inexorable conclusions. Not the future-foretelling prophet, but the prophet as pain in the neck.

Also a kind of poet. "Mainstream" Protestantism, from the beginning, was totally opposed to allegorical readings of the Bible. Hence all the New World forms of covenanting & congregating, which attempted to re-enact - literally - the language, law & rituals of the Old & New Testaments. But Williams was a radical typologist - the stories in the Bible were mere figures, allegories, "types" - of that unwritten Someone - God on earth.

"Deep in Williams' being lay an aptitude for figures and allegories; nothing for him was more congenial, as nothing was more antipathetic to Winthrop, that to conceive of historic Israel as an allegory of a church which exists not on land or sea. Winthrop might be compared to - he was more generous than - a modern man of affairs, brought up on Longfellow, when confronted with T.S. Eliot or Kafka. As for Williams, being a rhetorician of allegory, he could not bear to see Charles I or Governor Winthrop take unto themselves those accoutrements of power which Christ had turned into metaphors." [p.39-40]


Already twice as many recorded "visitors" to the music blog as to HG Poetics. Now I know what all these students walking around here cross-eyed, under headphones, are doing. They're listening to Go Little Sparrow, as well they should be, the little would-be scholars. (p.s., Jonathan, have you tried clicking on the little green arrow, rather than the song title?)
I've done my share of busking, in Providence, San Francisco... but mostly in the London underground. In those days I had a nice Les Paul and a little portable amp. I had to take good care of that guitar, an incongruous instrument for any busker. Ended up selling it one day (back in US) when I was low on funds (still regret that!). Now I play a Korean Les Paul imitation (which isn't too bad, actually), & an old cracked Gibson acoustic.

I took guitar lessons for a while (a short while) with Duke Robillard, here in Providence. Also remember taking some folk-picking lessons, briefly, when I was a freshman in college. Otherwise I am pretty much self-taught on that instrument.

I am not obsessive about music the way I have been at times about writing. & I haven't even been that obsessive about writing. I can't tell you a zillion things about the technicalities or who's who in either area of endeavor. I am generally a person for whom things have always come too easily, & neither do I push myself too hard. I suppose this is a damning admission (at my age you start to recognize where you might have pushed harder). I daydream a lot, I brood a lot.

[p.s. the song over at GLS titled "Down Around Angola" was first composed & performed in the London subway. Too bad I can't remember the rest of the lyrics. The song was about international arms dealing, I think.]


Brand new music over at G.L.S. : "The Martians Are Leaving".
this just in : Ramblin' Bramhall uses word "ducats". May have been reading Yourcenar in his subconscious mind.
Finished Yourcenar's The Abyss over the weekend. I can't remember reading a better historical novel. & it's more than an "historical novel".

Set in mid-1500s. Makes you realize very clearly why Pilgrims etc. came over here (& of course everything was sweetness & light, over here! like in Salem!). Pure hell of religious wars, totalitarian empires, persecution of science, free thought... she piles on layer after layer of human folly.

Her gift for depth of detail, characterization. The dialogues read like a very good play.


Sympatica Anny Ballardini put up an old Pavese translation of mine, here.

& I mentioned Go Little Sparrow to Rev. Jo-Ann Drake, minister at my church. She decided to start a blog for Redeemer! (I will have to show her how she can upload weird music too!)


Here's a dictionary in which words are defined using limericks.
Jonathan, I'm sorry if I give the impression of feeling neglected by other bloggers!

No, bloggers treat me just fine. Here's my True Chart of Henry Neglect:

Sphere of Activity : Neglect Level

Blogworld : None

Po-Biz : Neglected, scorned, shunned, ignored

Literary World in General : Unknown

p.s. I used to pay so much more attention to the Po-Biz sphere. Blogworld helped wean me away from all that moronic nonsense. I have moved on, thankfully, to other forms of idiocy.
Fascinating (& concise) article on "Music & Poetry" in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics. Can Henry reunite his split personalities? Stay tuned.
I grew up in the 50s in a little section between Hopkins & Edina (MN) called Mendelssohn, named so by some young settlers (1870s?) who were professional musicians with the Minnesota Symphony. I've written a children's story & a novella, both (in part) celebrations of that musical neighborhood. Both sadly unpublished. Any children's book people or fiction publishers out there, hey, get in touch with me!
The combination of a bad cold & a music bent has kept me from HG Poetics. But it's curious how blogging gets to be part of your extended self. The word blog sounds vaguely biological.

Like many, or more than most, I've had my difficulties integrating various interests & ambitions. Music remains an undeveloped talent, and writing an unfulfilled ambition. The new technologies, however, seem to encourage or empower amateurs like me.

This can be seen as both positive & negative, I guess. Sometimes we want roughness & authenticity & immediacy, rather than the cult of "clean, tight" music, the seamless, impenetrable aura of professionalism. Then again, sometimes we want that perfection & power, the refinement which comes from a lifelong nurture of talent.

I started piano lessons when I was 6 years old. This was about a year after I started begging my parents for lessons. My mother played piano & flute; my father has a good singing voice. I took lessons til I was 14, and went pretty far with it. I won 3rd place in a state competition when I was 13. Then I started losing interest, to the chagrin of Mrs. Elledge, my teacher.

I started playing guitar when I was 15. I started in on harmonica at 17. I was playing in bands my senior year in high school. Then in college, I pretty much dropped it again - until I dropped out of college, & hit the road, connecting with old high school bandmates & others. Ended up playing on the streets & elsewhere in San Francisco, Denver, NYC (this was in the mid-70s). Went over to England to apply for the opening with the Rolling Stones (Mick Taylor's former spot). (I've told that story before!), played in little coffeehouse bands around London for a few months.

Then when all that came to an end I went back to school. Dropped music again for almost 10 years. Was encouraged by fellow library worker (Jim Chapin) to take up harmonica again, and have played in various jug/blues/country bands with him since then (late 80s). Am learning about "podcasting" partly in order to advance the recording of what we do (the "K.C. Moaners" - Jim, Colette & me). Jim is a very fine musician, a kind of homegrown Hank Williams, who can play & sing hundreds of traditional tunes.

- But I see now how so much of what I've been able to do, in writing and music, is based on those 7 years with Mrs. Elledge - that hour every day practicing at the piano. Tone & tempo, expression & pacing... learning to write is as much a matter of training the ear, as it is learning grammar & hermeneutics.


Home again with a heavy-duty cold. But I did have the harmonic fortitude to put up another song over that the other blog. A new (old) song, which used to have about 4 verses. (I can only remember one.) Had a heck of a time trying to record 2 tracks.


I'm sure I'll be back to HG Poetics soon, dear friends. Just having a music fit. Soon I'll be homesick again for Time Flowers, etc.

Today I was messing around on the piano - thinking about how a certain chord made me feel "distance, grasslands"... - and a bird joined in, very appropriately.